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CCX Urinetown.jpg: Amenity #9 is the poorest, filthiest public restroom in town – and a delightful stop in “Urinetown: The Musical” opening Feb. 4 at East Lansing’s Wharton Center. Photo by Joan Marcus.
If you think YOUR job is tough, try selling tickets to a musical called “Urinetown.”
“The title itself scares people,” laughed Bob Hoffman, manager of public relations for East Lansing’s Wharton Center for Performing Arts.
Despite the image the title might suggest, “Urinetown: The Musical,” which opens Feb. 4 for six performances, is actually a social satire about a very serious issue: water consumption – and the effect greed can have on society when water runs low and one man controls the public spigot.
The idea for the musical came to lyricist and co-author Greg Kotis while traveling through Europe as “an under-funded” college student who got caught with his pants down – so to speak – when he discovered a very basic difference between America and its sister countries across the sea: Everywhere he went he had pay to use the public restroom facilities.
“He thought it was hilarious that he had to budget for this,” Hoffman said, “so he wrote a play about it.”
Although it was initially a tough concept to sell to producers and theatrical agents, “Urinetown: The Musical” eventually earned three Tony Awards in 2002 – for best original score, best book and best direction.
“There’s nothing vulgar in it,” Hoffman emphasized. “It’s a show that will make you sing, dance and laugh; it’s hilarious!”
Another upcoming show at the Wharton that might make some stand up and take notice is “The Fully Monty,” set to open March 2.
“We’re doing well with that one,” Hoffman chuckled.
So why is mid-Michigan getting two Broadway smash hits before Detroit does, Southeast Michiganders might be asking themselves right about now?
It pays to have connections!
“Former [Wharton] Executive Director Bill Wright has a great relationship with many of the Broadway producers,” Hoffman revealed. “He was a Tony voter, and he was able to work out a deal.”
What also helps is the fact that Wharton Center is a nationally recognized powerhouse in the performing arts!
Located on the campus of Michigan State University and named after its 14th president, Dr. Clifton Wharton, Wharton Center opened in 1982. Since then, it has become the second largest program of its kind among all universities in the country – and the largest presenter in the Big 10.
“We sell more tickets, we have the largest budget and the largest education program,” Hoffman stated. “We also rank in the Top 10 of all non-profit centers in the United States in fundraising, tickets sold, growth of audience and number of performances.”
It’s also one of the best kept secrets – at least to many in Metro Detroit!
Although Wharton Center’s primary market is mid-Michigan, Hoffman noted that subscribers come from as far away as Traverse City, Gladwin and Toledo.
“We really are the premier performing arts center in mid-Michigan,” Hoffman said. “Our mission statement is to serve the community in providing access to the best in performing arts in all its disciplines.”
Broadway musicals are only a minor part of the Wharton’s current 40-show season, however. Among the other programs scheduled for Wharton’s 2,500-seat Great Hall and the smaller, 600-seat Pasant Theatre are an eclectic mix of music, dance, comedy, opera and children’s shows.
“This is YOUR Wharton Center,” Hoffman concluded. “Check us out if you haven’t before.”
Complete information about Wharton Center and its 2003-04 season can be obtained by calling 1-800-WHARTON or online at http://www.whartoncenter.com.